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message 1: by Lobstergirl, el principe (new)

Lobstergirl | 24261 comments Mod
How do you feel about novels in the present tense? I can't read them. They make me shudder.

Philip Hensher agreed with me, back in 2010 when he was a Booker judge.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/bo...

"...one of the reasons it has spread so much is a thousand low-level creative writing tutors, clinging to the belief that you can “make your writing more vivid” by turning to the present tense. Writing is vivid if it is vivid. A shift of tense won’t do that for you."

"...in a literary context, it quickly takes on a weird, transfixed, glassy quality – the opposite of vividness."


In a world filled with trendy present tense novels, "It’s the past-tensers who start to sound bolder, more interested in the possibilities of language," says Hensher.

Philip Pullman: "This wretched fad has been spreading more and more widely. I can’t see the appeal at all. To my mind it drastically narrows the options available to the writer. When a language has a range of tenses such as the perfect, the imperfect, the pluperfect, each of which makes other kinds of statement possible, why on earth not use them?"

He added: "I just don’t read present-tense novels any more. It’s a silly affectation, in my view, and it does nothing but annoy."


message 2: by Lobstergirl, el principe (new)

Lobstergirl | 24261 comments Mod
Exception: American Psycho. For some reason the present tense in that didn't bother me much.


message 3: by Sarah (new)

Sarah | 13815 comments I'm not a fan of present-tense novels, but I just read Jo Walton's Lifelode and it makes good use of the present tense.


message 4: by Phil (new)

Phil | 11665 comments Phil is not certain if he enjoys present tense writing, but he is quite sure he occasionally engages in third-party referencing.


message 5: by Sarah (new)

Sarah | 13815 comments I think second person is the far worse writing gimmick-crime.


Jackie "the Librarian" | 8993 comments Sarah Pi wrote: "I think second person is the far worse writing gimmick-crime."

Agreed, Sarah Pi.

Isn't Bright Lights, Big City in 2nd person? I SO did not want to be that character, and didn't appreciate McInerny writing it that way.


message 7: by Sarah (new)

Sarah | 13815 comments I think it is, though I never read it.

Jhumpa Lahiri wrote a story or two in 2nd that I was okay with, and I think Absalom, Absalom! was 2nd person and I liked that one when we read it in school. Other than that, I can pretty much say it turns me off so fast that I don't think I've finished another book in 2nd person.


message 8: by Sarah (new)

Sarah | 13815 comments That sounds like the beginning of an adult choose your own adventure book.

If you decide to do lines in the bathroom, go to page 72.

If you decide to pass on the coke and drink yourself into a stupor, go to page 118.


message 9: by Sarah (new)

Sarah | 13815 comments Myles wrote: "I always cheated and saved pages between my fingers so I could go back in case I died."

Me too.


message 10: by Lobstergirl, el principe (new)

Lobstergirl | 24261 comments Mod
Sarah Pi wrote: "I'm not a fan of present-tense novels, but I just read Jo Walton's Lifelode and it makes good use of the present tense."

What makes it a good use?


message 11: by Sarah (new)

Sarah | 13815 comments Lobstergirl wrote: "Sarah Pi wrote: "I'm not a fan of present-tense novels, but I just read Jo Walton's Lifelode and it makes good use of the present tense."

What makes it a good use?"


The main character has an ability to see glimpses of other people at various ages and at various times. She looks at a table and can see echos of children careening around it in past and future, and when a child says something serious, she can see echoes of the adult he will become, or vice versa. It's relatively minor to the plot, but it very much informs the structure of the book. Present makes sense since to some extent, everything that has ever happened is always happening. It took some getting used to, but it won me over.


message 12: by Lobstergirl, el principe (new)

Lobstergirl | 24261 comments Mod
I just found out Bleak House is present tense. Ack!


message 13: by Sarah (new)

Sarah | 13815 comments That's your only "ack" about Bleak House?


message 14: by Lobstergirl, el principe (new)

Lobstergirl | 24261 comments Mod
I haven't read it. So any potential acks will be held in reserve.


message 15: by Scout (new)

Scout (goodreadscomscout) | 3434 comments Saw the thread title and wondered if this would be about tense situations presently in the news.

I've seen first-person present tense used effectively in novels, but only when interspersed with other points of view and not used exclusively.


message 16: by smetchie (new)

smetchie | 4034 comments They make me shudder too. It's my least favorite tense.


message 17: by Lori (new)

Lori Especially when you find out later in the book that the narrator is completely unreliable. Mind fuck!


message 18: by Sally, la reina (new)

Sally (mrsnolte) | 17333 comments Mod
Jennifer Egan just did it not just once but twice, with two different characters, for two different effects. I didn't much like it because it put me on edge. But it was what she was trying to do to me. Jerk. I love her so much.


message 19: by Lobstergirl, el principe (new)

Lobstergirl | 24261 comments Mod
I just finished David Lodge's book about fiction and he had something interesting to say about it: it gives a novel depthlessness. "The past tense of conventional narrative implies that the story is known to and been assessed by the narrator in its entirety." Use of the present tense "impassively tracks the characters as they move from moment to moment toward an unknown future."


Stacia (the 2010 club) (stacia_r) Sarah Pi wrote: "I think second person is the far worse writing gimmick-crime."

I'm trying to think of any book that I've read that's been written in second person and can't seem to think of one.

What are some well known ones? Anything that would qualify as standard school lit or something?


Stacia (the 2010 club) (stacia_r) Hunger Games was first person present iirc? It took a minute to get used to, but once I did, I didn't notice anymore.


message 22: by Lobstergirl, el principe (new)

Lobstergirl | 24261 comments Mod
Stacia *don't bother me, I'm reading wrote: "Sarah Pi wrote: "I think second person is the far worse writing gimmick-crime."

I'm trying to think of any book that I've read that's been written in second person and can't seem to think of one...."


Bright Lights, Big City is the only one that comes to mind (Jackie mentioned it above). I don't know if that would qualify for a school curriculum, but it was one of those books that seemed to epitomize an era.


message 23: by Lobstergirl, el principe (new)

Lobstergirl | 24261 comments Mod
Then We Came to the End is written in first person plural (We).


message 24: by Lobstergirl, el principe (new)

Lobstergirl | 24261 comments Mod
Stacia *don't bother me, I'm reading wrote: "Hunger Games was first person present iirc? It took a minute to get used to, but once I did, I didn't notice anymore."

Yes, I was thinking about reading it until I opened it and saw that.

Same with John Updike's Rabbit novels. Yech!


Stacia (the 2010 club) (stacia_r) I went and looked up a listopia list of books written in second person.

Turns out I have read one.

Stolen: A letter to my captor

I liked the book as a whole, but good lord, I got tired of her saying "you did this, you did that." Hence, the letter to her captor though....


message 26: by Scout (new)

Scout (goodreadscomscout) | 3434 comments "Call me Ishmael." Moby-Dick begins with a first-person present-tense narrative. But the story is also told by an omniscient narrator (who relates the story through different characters' eyes) and an objective narrator (who fills us in on whaling lore). That first-person present-tense narrator, though, hooks the reader and sets him up to expect a present-tense ending. So maybe present tense isn't all bad.

Having said that, I only read the book because our eleventh-grade teacher cracked the whip at our heels every page of the way.


message 27: by ~Geektastic~ (new)

 ~Geektastic~ (atroskity) | 3207 comments I like Wolf Hall's use of the present tense because there is a shadowy element to the story, a purposeful unreliability, that that particular narrative choice enhances. I felt like I was hovering just over Cromwell's (Thomas Cromwell, advisor to Henry VIII) shoulder and nothing was set in stone. It was especially effective when he would hold simultaneous conversations with two different people at once and you (as the reader) couldn't necessarily hear the responses from each side. It's not something I like in general, but Mantel was particularly skillful and in this case I loved it. It also enhances this sort of non-person element that Cromwell has; he is always in the present and his name is rarely used. I wish I could put it into better words.

Second person, however, I have not been able to stomach in my few experiences with it.


message 28: by Jammies (new)

Jammies Present tense doesn't bother me, but boy-howdy second person does! I got 28 pages into a book and bailed for that reason.

Amber, now I have to add that book to my TBR.


message 29: by Sarah (new)

Sarah | 13815 comments Jammies wrote: "Present tense doesn't bother me, but boy-howdy second person does! I got 28 pages into a book and bailed for that reason.

Amber, now I have to add that book to my TBR."


Same. I'm fine with past and present, but 2nd person tends to make me cringe unless it is very short and very well done. Also future irritates me.


message 30: by Lobstergirl, el principe (new)

Lobstergirl | 24261 comments Mod
Another tense that's really annoying, if it goes on for more than a few sentences, is the past perfect/pluperfect.


message 31: by Leslie (new)

Leslie | 777 comments There are some really good present tense memoirs--Blackbird by Jennifer Lauck, Loose Girl, Angela's Ashes. I think when it's done well in memoirs, it adds to the intensity and emotional power of the book.


message 32: by Jaimie (new)

Jaimie (jez476) | 664 comments For me, being dyslexic, it's hard for me to read present tense. There's something with the cadence (is that the right word?) that is off in present tense for my mind to get around. The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thompson is written in present tense. I started reading it a few months ago but put it down, not for the tense, and before I did I noticed that I stopped noticing the present tense and actually felt the story moving along nicely. I try not to be turned off immediately by present tense; I might miss a good one. But to me it's just not proper. And it's like using but or and at the beginning of a sentence; it's bad grammar but seems now to be readily accepted.


message 33: by Janice (new)

Janice (jamasc) The book I'm reading right now, Shanghai Girls, is written in present tense. It took me a few pages to shift my focus from the style to the story.

Present tense can feel a bit discordant when reading it which may add to the intensity of the story. In the case of Shanghai Girls, the discordant feel adds to the turmoil of war, moving to America and living in poverty.


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